Once in awhile mum would ask me, “Are you a Singaporean?” What she means is, have I surrendered my Malaysian citizenship and embraced Singapore citizenship. I have lived in Singapore for about eight years, since 2007. Previously I had lived in Singapore for seven years — four years for my dental training and three years working as a dentist. Mum is not the only one who has asked me this question. Some of my Malaysian friends also wonder if I have exchanged my blue identity card (Malaysian) for a pink one (Singaporean).
I am not surprised that some people think that becoming a Singaporean is the logical thing for a Malaysian Christian Chinese to do. A recent article said between 30 and 50 applications to renounce Malaysian citizenship are received every day at the Malaysian High Commission in Singapore. (I am not presuming that Singapore would have me.) Every day there is fresh evidence that Malaysia is going further down a path of racism, mismanagement, corruption and radical Islam. Singaporean friends also wonder if I have made the switch. I am touched that they deem me worthy to be one of them. But I remain a Malaysian. Why?
For a number of reasons. First, I have received no fresh orders from my Lord to change citizenship. Jesus is my Lord and I make such key decisions at His command. My life is not my own. It was bought with a price. My first loyalty is not to Malaysia. My first loyalty is to the Lord and that includes seeking Him as to which country I should belong to. I know some say that they are citizens of the world, and I can understand this sentiment in the global world we live in. However, it’s not cool when basically it means I am loyal only to myself, enjoying the benefits of various countries, and not taking any responsibility to help in the development of any of them.
I am also inspired by the apostle Paul. He was clear that his calling was to the Gentiles.
As for those who were held in high esteem—whatever they were makes no difference to me; God does not show favouritism—they added nothing to my message. On the contrary, they recognized that I had been entrusted with the task of preaching the gospel to the uncircumcised, just as Peter had been to the circumcised. (Galatians 2:6-7 NIV)
Yet he continued to love his own people passionately.
For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my people, those of my own race, the people of Israel. (Romans 9:3-4a NIV)
I was born a Malaysian. Call me naïve and old fashioned but I still see Malaysians as my “own people” and I feel that I have a responsibility for them, especially at a time when the country is going through so much turmoil. I pain for my fellow Malaysians. I pray from them. I try to encourage my friends who are serving God in Malaysia. Many serve at the frontlines as MPs, educationists, pastors, carers of the environment, journalists, etc. Most of them could easily emigrate to Singapore or elsewhere but feel led to stay. I believe my ability to encourage these brothers and sisters would be compromised if I were no longer a Malaysian.
I need to say that I am a permanent resident of Singapore, a status the Singapore government reviews every five years. I am therefore committed to the welfare of this city-state as well. Indeed Jeremiah 29:7 commands us to work for the peace and prosperity of the place where God has put us and I live in Singapore.
I owe a huge debt to Singapore. First, my family. The biggest blessing of my life is my beloved Bernice, my darling wife. Her love has been a key turning point for me and my friends can all see that. I am also deeply touched by the love of her boys, now my sons. They all show me unconditional love. When I entered into this marriage I was still broken in many ways. Yet they embraced me and their love brought so much healing to me and my boys.
I also owe a huge debt to my brothers and sisters in Christ in Singapore. Many of the churches here have accepted me with all my failures and shortcomings and have given me a place to heal and to serve. In many ways I have been given a new lease of life because I moved to Singapore. I have many here—friends, family, brothers and sisters in Christ—who are very dear to me. It is easy to obey God’s command to seek the welfare of Singapore.
So, for now, I am based in Singapore. The bulk of my ministry is here. I make frequent trips back to Malaysia to be with mum in Penang, and to do what ministry I can in the country. The tentative plan is to retire in Penang one day. Bernice has more family in Penang than I have (her dad was a Free School boy who knew P. Ramlee!). But who knows. Christ may come back first.
“Saya masih warganegara Malaysia” (I am still a Malaysian citizen). My ultimate citizenship, however, is in heaven.
But our citizenship is in heaven. And we eagerly await a Savior from there, the Lord Jesus Christ, who, by the power that enables him to bring everything under his control, will transform our lowly bodies so that they will be like his glorious body. (Philippians 3:20–21 NIV)
Come Lord Jesus.